June 24, 2008

Sabbatical - Lawn Care

Filed under: Faith Seeking Understanding — Pastor Tim @ 4:47 pm

So far, the major theme of my sabbatical seems to be lawn-mowing!

 Because of the floodwaters between us and Pilgrim Heights, I couldn’t get to camp for the first week of my sabbatical.  I went to my parents’ house an hour north of St. Louis instead.  They live on six acres in a country woods.  Because of recent health concerns, (my father has neuropathy that has been acting up), they needed help with lawn-mowing among other jobs.  So I spent a good portion of two days on their riding lawn mower.  (I hit a stump, bent a blade, and had to replace it on a third day.)

This week I have made it to Pilgrim Heights.  Right away, I learned the maintenance worker hasn’t had a day off in a long time.  So I’ve spent a good portion of today on the John Deere tractor, mowing, giving him an afternoon off at least.

Sitting on a tractor connects me with my roots.  I think back a lot to the days before my Grandpa died in a farming accident (1969, I think).  We visited the farm once a week, occasionally helping with chores (walking bean fields and chopping weeds, stacking hay bales, gathering eggs), but usually just to visit.  Visiting is sort of a rural art.  It helps folks slow down.  At least it helped us slow down when we left the hectic pace of the suburbs for Grandma and Grandpa’s farm.

Here at camp, we spend an hour for meals.  It is always hard at first to slow down enough to sit for that long.  It’s hard both for campers and for the leaders.  By the end of the week, when everyone’s exhausted, we look forward to those slower times.

A part of the gift of this sabbatical is the chance to slow down, whether visiting at the dinner table, or riding on a tractor.

June 14, 2008

“Will Our Faith Have Children?”

Filed under: Faith Matters — Pastor Tim @ 9:37 pm

Then the LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”  Genesis 18:10

Abraham and Sarah laughed at the prospect of having children in their old age.  (Actually, it sounds as if they may have laughed at the prospect of having intercourse. v. 12)  But God was faithful and gave them Isaac, so the promise of becoming a great nation could be carried on through him.

Today many congregations struggle with a limited number of younger members.  We worry about no one being in the church when current generations have passed away.  We don’t want to promote the idea of having children simply for the purpose of saving the church!   But we do need to listen to the story of Abraham and Sarah to find ways towards our future.

Years ago, a book was written called Will Our Children Have Faith?  [John Westerhoff III, New York: The Seabury Press, 1976]  It was an important book concerning how the church would need to address Christian education at a time when many young people were beginning to experiment with alternative lifestyles.  However, a decade later, a seminary professor turned that book’s title around in a speech he gave.  [Walter Brueggemann, Hope Within History, Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1987, “Will Our Faith Have Children?” first presented at Eden Theological Seminary, St. Louis, 1983]  By twisting that title, he invited the church to focus on how we live in ways that trust God’s ability to bring about a future that we cannot yet imagine.

He suggested we need to truly grieve the death of some methods of being church in our culture.  Then we need to embrace the dying of those old ways of being church.  And finally we be able to embrace new opportunities to live our faith with integrity.

A couple of decades later, I’d like to suggest that we are still working at grieving the loss of institutional religion and at embracing truly inclusive community as the way to identify our lives of faith.

I don’t have any easy answers for working at this.  (Modern music may have brought more young people to our institutions, but it doesn’t automatically shape disciples for inclusive community!)  Yet we do still have the story of Sarah and Abraham.

May their laughter give shape to our hope in God’s providing new life, new birth, new future!

June 4, 2008

Holy Interruptions

Filed under: Faith Matters — Pastor Tim @ 10:10 am

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.”  Matthew 9:9

While [Jesus] was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.”  Matthew 9:18

Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak.  Matthew 9:20

You know how frustrating it is.  You sit down with your family to enjoy a nice, warm piece of baked chicken, and the phone rings.  “The extended warranty on one or more of your cars is about to expire.”  In actual fact, the warranty on your car is good for another two years, or it has expired five years ago.  But someone thinks they can make some money, so they program their company’s automatic phone dialers to intrude upon your meal time.

In this week’s gospel reading, first Jesus is the interrupter - calling Matthew from the midst of his efforts to balance his tax books.  But shortly thereafter Jesus is the interruptee - he is speaking to disciples of John the Baptist when a synagogue leader intrudes to get him to attend to his dead daughter; then as he’s traveling with this leader, a hemorrhaging woman imposes upon his journey as she seeks healing for herself.

“Life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans,” goes a popular saying.  We must make plans and schedules, but we must also be ready for them be interrupted.  Indeed, many of life’s greatest blessings have to intrude and redirect our lives:

  • A baby blesses the life of a parent, but also disrupts all the familiar routines
  • A committed life-partner provides support through life’s journey, but also imposes his/her own life-situation on one’s own
  • A job opening provides expanding career opportunities, but also carries requirements for new learnings and for taking on new responsibilities

Not every interruption is the call of God, of course - especially not those mealtime telemarketers!  But a major part of our spiritual growth needs to be the developing of the ability to recognize God’s intrusions.  The call to make a contribution of time or talent or treasure towards some new ministry often feels like an interruption; but it is often how God seeks to work in our world.

Until God is finally finished shaping our lives, God will have to intrude upon our other plans.  May we find the grace to welcome these interruptions.